China approves a second COVID-19 vaccine

By Sui-Lee Wee

Beijing has approved a second Chinese COVID-19 vaccine — a drug made by Sinovac Biotech that will be distributed to developing countries — in a move that furthers the country’s efforts to be a global player in ending the pandemic.

Sinovac said in a statement Saturday that it had received conditional approval from China’s National Medical Products Administration a day earlier. In December, China approved a vaccine made by Sinopharm Group, a state-owned company.

Sinovac and Sinopharm have released little data from late-stage trials that would allow scientists to draw independent conclusions on their vaccines’ efficacy. Sinovac’s vaccine, CoronaVac, has had four different efficacy rates announced in recent months by the countries that conducted Phase 3 trials. In the most recent, Brazilian officials said that CoronaVac had an efficacy rate of just over 50%, although those who received it and still became infected showed only “very mild symptoms.”

Sinovac said the approval was based on two months of clinical trial data. It said it had not obtained the final analysis data, adding that “the effectiveness and safety results have yet to be further confirmed.”

Sinovac has struck deals with at least 11 countries and regions, including Brazil, Chile, Indonesia and Turkey, in keeping with President Xi Jinping’s promise last year that a Chinese COVID-19 vaccine would be a global public good.

Sinovac said it had completed a second production line that would increase its manufacturing capacity to more than 1 billion doses after it is put into use this month.

Even before the completion of late-stage trials, Chinese officials approved the vaccines from Sinopharm and Sinovac for emergency use and rolled them out to millions of people, prompting criticism from scientists who argued that the move could pose a risk to public health.

In other news from around the world:

— Germany is discussing how to help BioNTech and other COVID-19 vaccine makers secure production capacity and raw materials, the country’s health minister, Jens Spahn, tweeted Saturday. Vaccine shortage in the European Union is a growing crisis, adding pressure on the EU’s chief executive, Ursula von der Leyen.

— A nightly 9 p.m. curfew that started Friday in Havana is Cuba’s latest attempt to bring the spread of the virus under control. The country has four vaccines in development, and Cuban health authorities have said that tourists will be able to receive vaccinations during their stay, creating the prospect of health tourism once workers at package holiday destinations have been vaccinated.

— About 500 protesters marched against coronavirus restrictions in Zug, Switzerland, a lakeside tax haven, Reuters reported. Some among the masked marchers wore placards that read, “Wearing a mask is modern slavery,” as a voice over a loudspeaker said, “Closeness is dangerous” and “Denounce those you love.” Switzerland’s restrictions have been less severe than those in Germany and Austria, countries that have also seen significant opposition to safety restrictions.

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